The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council has written to the leaders of all district and borough authorities in the county to assure them over suggested Government plans that their councils could be scrapped.
Councillor Ben Bradley MP (Con) penned the letter in response to concerns raised by Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), the leader of Ashfield District Council, following an alleged leak of the upcoming Levelling Up White Paper.
The apparent leak, reported by The Independent, suggested Whitehall plans to bring in top-down local government reorganisation (LGR) as part of its new devolution ‘County Deals’.
Reports suggested areas such as Nottinghamshire – which are governed in a two-tier system where district or borough authorities and county councils share service provision – could be reformed into a single-tier, unitary system.
This new system, the reports suggested, could involve proposals similar to the ‘super-council’ plans unsuccessfully attempted at length by former county council leader Kay Cutts (Con).
However, Cllr Bradley, who replaced Mrs Cutts as leader in May, confirmed on Friday (December 17) he has written to Cllr Zadrozny and all other district and borough leaders on the issue.
In the letter, the Mansfield MP provides assurances directly from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) that “top-down reorganisation” is off the cards.
The Government assurance states reorganisation of Nottinghamshire’s council structure is “not a pre-requisite” for the attempted devolution deal currently being sought by all authorities in the county.
And it adds reorganisation would be a ‘locally-led’ process requiring support across the board – something the proposals do not have.
The Government did not, however, rule out LGR in other parts of the country.
Writing in the letter to leaders, Cllr Bradley said: “It looks likely the White Paper will lay out a number of options. Some of these may include LGR but Government has made it very clear there will not be ‘top-down reorganisation’.
“It seems possible different models of governance may come with different powers and/or funding.
“I imagine one such option will be a County Deal with all councils working together in their current structure, as we have proposed publicly.
“We all know Government has never been willing to force single-tier governance, and that the criteria as it stands would not enable that to happen in Nottinghamshire, given there is not a ‘good deal of local support’.
“When I was elected as leader of the county council I said LGR was not in our plans and I stand by that.”
Supporters of the changes say the current system “no longer serves the interests of residents and taxpayers”, with Kay Cutts previously describing having eight Nottinghamshire authorities as “wasteful and confusing”.
But the proposals, which could have led to what many described as a ‘super-council’, were unanimously opposed by district and borough leaders and described as “undemocratic”.
Objectors feared decision-making could be taken away from communities under the plans and also lead to job losses across the eight authorities.
Speaking following Cllr Bradley’s letter, Cllr Jason Zadrozny, who raised the initial concerns, welcomed the intervention.
He said: “I thank Ben for replying to my letter, setting out my opposition to leaked plans from Government to scrap councils like Ashfield.
“I welcome his opposition to his own Government but this will not go away.
“I will continue to pile pressure on both Ben and the Conservatives to use whatever influence they have to ensure plans to scrap local councils are consigned to the dustbin.”
A Government spokesperson has also since confirmed parts of the assurances in Cllr Bradley’s letter.
They said: “We do not comment on leaks. Work is progressing well on the Levelling Up White Paper, which will be published in January.
“There are no plans for top-down local government restructuring. Our approach is to empower local leaders.”